The Pro 1/2/3 race at the CCAP Kermis, as usual, was held on Friday night under the lights. A "Kermis" is a hybrid between a crit and a circuit race since it has relatively short laps, like a crit, but they are still long enough to give a circuit feel.
Racing under the lights is one of my favorite experiences in competitive bike racing, though few events have it. There is a reason they call it “primetime”, and race action in the evening is always accompanied by a certain tingle in the air. This tingle is caused by the sense of greater risk and danger that the darkness brings. Shadows, flickering lights, and low visibility all make for hazardous conditions when you are only inches from the riders all around you.
This year the CCAP Kermis was moved to May from its usual August date and it felt even darker than usual due to some "May Showers" cloud cover. The field of riders in the P/1/2/3, while not huge, was absolutely stacked with some of the best racers in the region. This group was headlined by Ben Wolf, one of the most promising up-and-comers in the domestic pro peloton. Ben is a CT native and always comes home to do these great events. Given his dominance over the last few seasons, epitomized by his ability to frequently lap top amateurs in criteriums, his presence adds a dynamic to races I have only experienced when Ted King, a current international pro, Tour De France rider, and New England native, also returns to local races. Everyone marks riders like this hoping for a chance at glory, and it changes the whole nature of the race. This same story played out in Friday night's Kermis as well...
My own experience was more humble to say the least. After a long hard slog to finish my Ph.D. while also teaching at Trinity College, and watching my young son, training has been very much on the back burner. In fact, this was my first race since officially finishing my degree, so my goals were modest. They were, 1) Get reacquainted with the high speeds required in the pro field and 2) finish the race. I am happy to say I accomplished both goals. The race started with every rider watching Ben Wolf like a hawk, a small break went and got a gap as everyone sat waited for Ben to motor away from us. After moving to the front to watch the action I followed a few small moves, but never did any real work as I had no idea how my body would react to the truly hard efforts of chasing and bridging gaps.
Finally, Ben Wolf decided it was time to go and it was like watching a motorcycle ride away from us. He quickly joined the group ahead. It was an impressive show of fitness. Once Ben joined the 5 or 6 riders ahead, it was clear that this was the breakaway group that would produce the winner of the race. That meant the rest of us had to make attempts to bridge up to them or be satisfied with a finish outside the top 5. Almost immediately there were a flurry of attacks. I followed what I could, but eventually the race broke apart into the lead group of 6 or 7, and numerous chase groups.
Because all the groups were small, it meant there was nowhere to hide or “sit-in” (draft), and I ended up with a much harder race than I bargained for. There were several crucial moments where I had to use everything I had to stay with the riders in front of me, but as I crossed my first finish line since accomplishing numerous non-cycling life goals it was great feeling. I learned that I still have fitness, that my racing skills haven't abandoned me, and that I have an awesome summer of racing with my Aetna-Expo teammates to look forward to.